It was nearly three years ago when a young girl of around seven approached me in Manohara Khola of Bhaktapur to ask what religion I followed. I was totally surprised by her question as religion seemingly meant so much to her even at her tender age. I answered ‘Hindu’ and then she said: ‘Hindus are Shaitaan (Satan)’. I couldn’t believe her response. Not because I was offended but because of what she had been taught.I am a Hindu by birth and by descent. It’s not something that I chose to follow but even if I had to choose a religion—at a mature age—I wouldn’t probably choose any. I hardly go to a temple. I don’t really do any puja. (Recently the only pujas I have done are on my sons’ birthdays when I call a priest at home to do the rituals for them.) I used a guide at Pashupatinath Temple when I was in my mid 20s, when I went alone to the famous temple in Kathmandu city where I grew up. I don’t know if the gods have ever punished me for being a near-atheist.
The little girl’s question and response time and again interrupt my thoughts, to this day. How important is religion anyway and your faith in it? How much does it guide you in today’s world, and help you stay away from wrongdoings? Is it your mind that tells you to distinguish between the good and the bad or should you follow religious texts as your life’s pathfinder? From what I have understood, religions help people respect nature and its inhabitants and do no harm to any creature. But if it is so, why do followers of one religion talk evil of others, promote hatred, and even take their lives?
All the major religions of the world are in tension with each other because of how religions have been understood or interpreted by their leaders. As a student of international affairs, I have studied ‘terrorism in the name of religion’ and it seems that every religion finds a way to misinterpret its certain texts and then convince a mass to justify their wrongdoings. The Indo-Pakistan divide between Hindu and Muslims, never-ending feuds between Jews and Christians of Israel and Palestine, and the more recent discord in Myanmar between Buddhists and Muslims are some examples of religious intolerance.
If all the gods spoke of love, then why do their followers understand it differently? Should abortion be considered a reproductive right or a God’s gift? Should women be kept away from kitchens during their menstruation? Are sons needed for parents to go to heaven? Can men marry as many women as they want? I say killing animals should be banned but for the meat-eaters, should one group be violent just because the other group eats meat of a certain animal? Those who preach about nonviolence—should they be non-vegetarian?
In a country like ours where we’ve fairly recently turned secular, we must watch out for the signs that can sow disharmony. Secularism needs to be internalized more by those who believe that by holding on to it they can condemn another religion or lure others for conversion. And it should be completely fine for one to lose his or her religion too.